Monday, August 18, 2008


If you are looking for creative, colorful, violent, and frightening science fiction novels, then pick up a Neal Asher. In the past few years I read Cowl and the Skinner, and I just read his first, Gridlinked. His books are set in the shared Polity universe, generally set a few hundred years from today where human society is ruled by AIs, connected via instantaneous travel and beset by enemies like the crablike Prador and the human Separatists. Holding back these terrors is Earth Central Security and, in Gridlinked, the James Bond-esque Ian Cormac.

Cormac begins the book by nearly blowing a mission to uncover Separatist activity. His AI minders decide to delink him from the AI grid, telling him that his connection to the AIs has reduced his humanity and, by extension, his usefulness. He is then sent to investigate a act of terror on another planet.

Asher's creativity is immense. Even is his asides he spins up bizarre biologies and technologies. Weapons fetishists will love his many ideas and the rest will appreciate that many of his ideas are tied back into the story.

Some readers will note similarities to Ian Banks and Richard Morgan (whose novels were published after Gridlinked.) The Polity is somewhat similar to the Culture and the AI led ECS is certainly similar to Special Circumstances. The Polity's world is generally grimmer than that of the Culture and the ECS agents tend to be more happy in their roles compared to those of the often self-doubting Special Circumstance agents.

Asher and Morgan make for an interesting comparison as Asher leans right and Morgan leans left. For the most part this does not impact their narratives although it does impact their emphases. Both authors, for example, deal with the possibility of bodies having new psyches implanted within them. For Morgan this is a story of the powerful crushing the weak. For Asher, it is a case of justice, those who are removed are hardened criminals that society doesn't want to pay to house.

Don't take the political orientation as a guide to whether you should read either author, you should read both if you read science fiction at all.

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